b. 15/01/1874 Sheffield, Yorkshire. d. 29/05/1921 Sheffield, Yorkshire.
James Firth (1874-1921) was born on 15th January 1874 at Wincobank, Sheffield, the son of Charles Firth, a steel smelter, who hailed from Jarrow, and he was educated at Swalwell, near Newcastle upon Tyne, and joined the Army on 29th July 1889, being promoted to Sergeant. On 6th June 1897, he married at Emmanuel Church, Attercliffe, Sheffield to Mary Florence Edwards, who hailed from Lincolnshire. They went on to have three sons, Alleyne Gatehouse Firth (born 1903), Cecil James Firth (born 1907) and Joseph (died 1910).
In 1899, James, a Sergeant in the 1st Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment, was posted to the outbreak of the Second Boer War in South Africa. He was awarded the Queen’s South Africa Medal with one clasp, and would be recommended for the Victoria Cross for his actions on 24th February 1900 at Plewman’s Farm, near Arundel in the Cape Colony.
During the action at Plewman's Farm, near Arundel, Cape Colony, on the 24th February, 1900, Lance-Corporal Blackman having been wounded and lying exposed to a hot fire at a range of from four to five hundred yards, Sergeant Firth picked him up and carried him to cover. Later in the day, when the enemy had advanced to within a short distance of the firing line, Second Lieutenant Wilson being dangerously wounded and in a most exposed position Sergeant Firth carried him over the crest of the ridge, which was being held by the troops, to shelter, and was himself shot through the nose and eye whilst doing so.
Firth lost an eye and would wear an eye patch for the rest of his life following his action. He was invested with his Victoria Cross by King Edward VII at St James' Palace on the 25 July 1901, shortly after this return from South Africa. Having left the Army, he returned to his native Sheffield, where he became a works foreman in a local steelworks. The family lived in Wallace Road, Neepsend in Sheffield for the remainder of James’ life. He applied for service again in 1914 at the outbreak of World War One, but he was turned down on medical grounds. After a long period of disability, he died of tuberculosis on 29th May 1921.
James was buried in Burngreave Cemetery, Sheffield. His wife and his two sons would later be buried near to him. Sadly, his grave was left in a state of disrepair for a number of years following his death. His medals were left in his will to his son, Alleyne Gatehouse Firth, as was most of his estate which totalled £359. On 20th October 1999, James’ Victoria Cross and Queen’s South African Medal were auctioned at Spink’s, where the hammer price reached £38,000. The purchaser was the Ashcroft Trust and the medals are now displayed in the Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IW MUSEUM.
BURIAL PLACE: BURNGREAVE CEMETERY, SHEFFIELD, YORKSHIRE.
James Firth's medals including his VC on display at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum, London (August 2014).
Plan - Kevin Brazier